Sunday, August 31, 2008

Amazigh Pride/Arabisation

Amazigh Pride/Arabisation
This next topic is something you could write a book on (in fact, some people have). It’s something that I’ve written about before (Nations Without States, one of my first entries) and something that I’ll certainly write about again. FYI, Amazigh is the word for the people that we call Berber. Tamazight is the word for the language that they (and I) speak.
The Amazigh people have been in Morocco and North Africa for hundreds and hundreds of years. They have survived invasions my many groups, most recently the French and Spaniards. The Moroccan state is an Arab state – I believe the Arabs moved into Morocco in the 800s. Like many other stateless peoples, Amazigh people worry about losing their culture. The Arab language and culture is becoming more and more ubiquitous in Morocco. The rural areas are the last strongholds of Amazigh culture. Among the people that I’ve met and talked to about the issue, there are many different attitudes. Generally speaking, the people that have opinions, one way or the other, about the future of the Amazigh people tend to be educated.
On the transit back from souq one day, another volunteer and I met these two young men. They were wearing colorful Amazigh flags on their backs. The other volunteer asked for a picture of the flags, which sparked a conversation about their attitudes. One guy was particularly anti-Arab. He said he refused to speak Arabic to people because it was the language of the oppressor. He said he was not a Muslim because it was an Arab religion. When he found out that we were apart of a development organization, he asked us to help his association – getting involved in political activities is something Peace Corps volunteers are explicitly prohibited from doing. The sad and ironic part of his Amazigh pride was that whenever he spoke to us about his anti-Arab/pro-Amazigh feelings, he spoke in French to as avoid angering other people on the transit – he couldn’t speak in the language that he was so interested in saving. I’ve noticed that, for some reason, prideful Amazigh people don’t mind speaking in French – it’s Arabic that they hate. The thing is, the French are just as guilty of colonizing Morocco as the Arabs.
At souq, we met another guy who I’d also describe as apart of the Amazigh pride movement. He was older than the two on the transit, perhaps 45 years old. Like those on the transit, he was also educated. He was an English teacher who also did some research. He asked to interview us in Tamazight (despite the fact that he spoke English) because he was interested in doing a linguistic analysis of our language ability. His research was basically centered on analyzing and preserving Amazigh culture. He was at the souq to interview people about the myths and stories of the Amazigh tradition and consolidate them in a book. I haven’t had a chance to go to his website yet, but if you want to check it out it’s The biggest difference between him and the two younger men on the transit is that he was less aggressively anti-Arab. We spoke about the Arabisation of Morocco and the loss of the Amazigh culture and language, but it wasn’t angry.
I’ve also met people who are interested in teaching me Tifinat, which is the Tamazight alphabet. Tamazight is a spoken language; the alphabet was adopted from other Amazigh people in Algeria. The hope of people pushing Tifinat is to preserve the Tamazight language. There is also a desire to standardize the Tamazight language so as to make it easier to teach and record. There are a few problems with Tifinat. The first is that Tamazight has not been a written language for hundreds of years; it may be too late to try and create an alphabet for the language. Another problem is that many people who speak Tamazight are illiterate. If Tamazight speaking people are literate, they’re most likely to have learned to read Arabic script.
Another part of the language preservation is the attempt to discontinue the worse of Arabic words in Tamazight. Arabic words are prevalent in Tamazight as they fill the holes for things that there are no words for in Tamazight. For example, there is no pure Tamazight word for book. You say ktab or kunash, which are both Arabic. The same people who are pushing the Tifinat alphabet are also trying to find Tamazight words for words like ktab. They import a word from a different part of the Tamazight speaking world and try to establish its usage so as to replace the Arabic word. For example, there is another word for book used in Algeria, which is aslid. The problem is, only a small minority of people know these words. They can’t use them in conversation because no one else knows them. I honestly doubt whether they even use them amongst each other because the word is not apart of their natural recall.
Generally speaking, the attempt to preserve Tamazight by separating it from Arabic is one that I have great respect for. Obviously, language is a huge part of culture and Tamazight is slowly disappearing from Morocco. When I go to nearby small cities like Midelt, people only use Arabic. You can find people who speak Tamazight, but plenty of people don’t. Even in the souq (market) in Tounfite, a town of 20,000 people that is in the mountains, I hear plenty of Arabic as I walk around. So while I hope that the efforts to preserve Tamazight are successful, they face an uphill battle. And in their attempt to preserve the language, they often resort to strategies that are not really preserving the language, but trying to create a new one. The Tifinat alphabet is not the alphabet of the Amazigh people in Morocco. Very few people that I’ve met know how to read it. You’ll see it on some signs announcing Amazigh cultural events, but it’s always accompanied by Arabic because no one can read it. It’s sort of just a novelty sideshow. And words like aslid may be Tamazight in origin, but they are not a part of the vocabulary of the Amazigh of Morocco.
So far, I’ve only talked about people I’ve met who are actively pro-Amazigh. There are some people who don’t believe Tamazight has a future. I’ve met Amazigh people who tell me I shouldn’t bother to learn Tamazight because any one worth talking to speaks Arabic. They think that everyone should learn Arabic and Tamazight should be forgotten. By learning Arabic, they say, Amazigh people can participate in the greater Arab/Middle Eastern culture and advance themselves. It’s depressing to talk to these people because they look down upon their own culture and people as backwards (they tend to be more educated). Although these people are right about the utility of learning Tamazight, the one thing they don’t realize is that the Arabic they use (Darija, Moroccan Arabic), is so different from the Arabic spoken in Egypt and most of the Middle East as to be nearly a different language.
I’m going to end this post now. There is so much more to say about this topic and it’s so interesting to me. There are many different aspects to the Amazigh cultural movement, so they cannot all be adequately addressed in one blog entry. I’m going to keep writing about this topic over the next 21 months. If I’m really ambitious I’ll look back on all the things I’ve written about it and consolidate it all.

Wedding Festival

This past week I’ve been in Imilchil, in the Errachidia province. They hold a yearly wedding festival every August. In addition to the weddings, there is a gigantic souq (market) and lots of live music. The souq is absolutely huge. Everyone says you can find anything you want in the souq, but it seemed to me that it was just a greater volume of the normal stuff you find in market. The volunteers of the region gather there to do education at the souq. There were about 10 of us volunteers there, half from the environment sector and half from health. We had a tent alongside other tents that we worked out of.
The first day of souq the health volunteers did education on hygiene and diarrhea medicine. For a number of reasons it was the hardest day. There are fewer people at souq the first day. I think hygiene is a difficult topic to do education on because it’s not very flashy and people don’t see how it can impact their lives. Also, it’s a difficult environment to do education in and we were probably still figuring out how to tune our message to the audience.
The second day we did mostly dental hygiene, which I thought went a lot better. The best moment for me was when I was talking to a number of people about brushing their teeth and the benefits of doing so and a toothless guy spoke up, saying that people would be like him if they didn’t listen to me.
On the final day, we did HIV/AIDS education. We had two Moroccans from a local association helping us do the education. Actually, they did the majority of the talking. But we would do education with the overflow from their groups. I think it went really well. When I was talking to people, there would often be someone listening who understood what we were trying to do and would help us. The level of knowledge about AIDS and STD’s in general is really variable. It’s obviously a sensitive subject, but I found that if you talk about the sensitive topics in an unembarrassed, straightforward manner people don’t seem offended. The statistics suggest that HIV/AIDS isn’t a big problem in rural Morocco at the moment, but that it’s a bigger problem in the cities. I think the education is really important so as to hopefully keep the rural areas relatively safe, although it may be a losing battle.
All in all, I think the week went really well. I ended up speaking to large groups of people about some key educational points. For the most part, people are engaged and interested in what you have to say. It was fairly interactive, so I think people were engaging.

As I wrote above, I spent the last week in Imilchil, so I haven’t been in my site. It was the first time I’ve been out of my site for more than one night. Coming back to my site felt a little like coming home and it was a good feeling. I missed people here and I think they missed me too, so that’s pretty cool. It’s come to my attention that more people are reading my blog, which is really exciting to me. Feel free to pass on the address to people you think may be interested. If there is some topic that you are interested in me writing about, please let me know. And I welcome comments and feedback.
My house is finished. Finally. I’ll be moving in Sunday or Monday. Ramadan starts Monday or Tuesday. I hope all is well in the States; I miss you all.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Wedding Season

Wedding Season

The last few days in my site have been pretty crazy. After the harvest, people have a little free time and more money than usual. So that’s when the weddings happen. Weddings are a big production here, usually a multi-day affair.
On Tuesday I got invited to a sadaqa for a wedding. A sadaqa (which I described in detail in one of my first posts) is a sort of somber affair. The family feeds a bunch of people and the local religious leader (fkeih) chants passages from the Koran. It’s a way of giving thanks to God. The sadaqa was mostly older men. I really enjoy listening to the chants of the fkeih. There were two fkeihs at this sadaqa so the two men sing two different parts. It’s pretty cool. Then we ate sheep tajine and couscous. The food is good.
The next day was a bigger affair; everyone in the village was invited. Before the food is served, there is music (which I’ll describe in detail below) and some dancing. Then food, then more music.
And the next day was even bigger. People from neighboring villages came too. That day (Thursday), was the actual wedding ceremony. Everyone shows up early and there is music while we wait for the bride. The bride is driven up in a car and then she and the husband go in the house for the ceremony. I didn’t see the ceremony and neither did most people – the ceremony itself doesn’t seem too important to people. I don’t think it’s very long or formal. People just kept dancing and singing outside. Then we went home for a little bit and came back later for more music, more food and more music. Lots and lots of music.
Last night (Friday) there was another party sort of thing. The daughter of a man in my village is marrying a guy who lives far away. So there’s a party for her, which is pretty much the same as the other parties, before she goes away. The family parades all of her new clothes around, then there’s more food and more music.
Tonight (Saturday) I’m going to another party. This one is organized by a local association. Monday there is another wedding. So it’s pretty busy. The music normally lasts late into the night, maybe 3 a.m. or so. I’ve had work early in the mornings, so I end up taking big naps every afternoon. Today, however, I was awoken from by nap by more music outside my window. Once a critical mass of drums and people meet in the same place, music normally starts.
Now to describe the music. The most important thing to understand is that it’s participatory. You can just stand there and listen and watch, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun to sing, dance and clap. The music is rhythmic and repetitive. It’s led by drums; there’s normally ten or fifteen hand drums at any given moment. There’s usually someone who has spoons that he bangs against a metal plate. And sometimes there is a flute sort of thing. As far as I can tell, there are a couple drummers who lead the music and dictate when a song starts and ends.
When we’re inside, everyone sits down in a big, empty room. The rooms are rectangular, maybe 50 feet long and 15 feet wide. And they get absolutely packed. Maybe over 100 people. Women on one side of the room and men on the other. First the room fills up along the walls, but then as more people come in concentric circles of people fill towards the center. By the end, you’re normally jammed in their with people pushing on you from every direction. It gets hot as there isn’t great ventilation. You sort of have to let the sweat and heat not bother you or you won’t have any fun. To start the music, a couple people sing the words to the song, which is normally just a few words long. Then other people repeat it. It’s just a simple call and response. Meanwhile, the drums get going and everyone starts clapping. You’re sitting shoulder to shoulder and clapping. People start swaying to the music and eventually a whole line of people are swaying back and forth, singing and clapping. While you sway, you sort of move your shoulders back and forth. The drummers end the song by speeding playing louder. Almost as soon as the song ends, someone else has sang a chant to start the next song. Sometimes, if there’s space in the middle of the room, two women will stand up and dance with each other.
When we’re outside, it’s a little different. Two lines of people form, facing one another. People stand close together, shoulder to shoulder. The dance is simple, you bend your knees rapidly in unison with your line while clapping and moving your shoulders back and forth. The singing is call and response, just as inside. After maybe 8 repetitions of the words, the drummers play a small interlude, everyone slows down for a bit, then the second half of the song is played faster and more vigorously. When the song ends, people normally start the same song up again almost immediately. For me, outside is a little more fun as you get to move more and it’s not as hot, but inside is good too because it normally gets a little louder and crazier.
It’s the most integrated that I’ve seen men and women be in my site. When we’re outside, women and men dance next to each other. It’s nothing explicit, but you dance shoulder to shoulder, pressed up against the two people next to you. Everyone’s having fun and you forget just a little about the divide between the genders. The music is mostly for younger people, but there are always a few older folks who are really into it and lead the way.
OK, so the music is technically as good as the music we listen to on a stereo at a party in America. I mean it’s just people playing drums and singing the same words over and over. But it’s much more fun because you’re involved in making the music.

I’m still not moved into my own house. My landlord is being super cheap about paying someone to dig a pit for my bathroom. He bargains with people about the work, but they haven’t come to an agreement yet. It’s frustrating because he should have started the bargaining earlier if he was going to be such a stickler about it. He has an incentive to just bite the bullet and pay someone because every day that I live with my host family is time that he’s not getting rent money. He’s already lost more money from me than the difference between his offer and the digger’s offer. But it seems more important to him to get a good deal on the job than to make money. Frustrating. Ramadan starts in maybe 9 days and if it’s not finished by Ramadan it won’t be done until the month is over. So I’m really pushing the guy to hurry the hell up.
Like I said, I’ve had some work. I’ve met with a few association presidents to talk about potential work projects, which has gone well. Right now people just throw their trash in the river, so one project that we’re going to try to do is build cement containers to collect and burn the trash in. Burning the trash is bad, but better than putting it in the river.
I’m also working with the guy in charge of running water in my town. Right now the town pays a lot of money for water to be pumped from a deep well. We’ve found a spring a couple kilometers away that is high up, so if we can collect the water and pipe it to the water chateau, we’ll be able to decrease the bill for the water. It’s also been good because it’s giving me a chance to talk about water cleanliness with people. Nothing has happened yet and might not for a while, but we’re working on it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Speaking Tamazight (Berber)

Speaking Tamazight (Berber)

I’m going to try and explain a feeling that is easy to understand if you’ve felt it, but perhaps difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t.
When I’m speaking a foreign language, there is a different feeling to it than speaking your native tongue. I noticed it with French and Spanish too, but the feeling is strongest with Tamazight. In a foreign tongue, the words that pass between people have an explicit meaning, something that you can look up in a dictionary. But they lack any kind of feeling or implicit meaning behind them. (There is a better term other than implicit and explicit, but I cannot recall it now). So when I’m talking to people, we’re communicating the thoughts that are in our heads be exchanging information, but it’s only an exchange of explicit information. It sort of feels as though I’m breaking a code as I listen.
One way to explain the feeling is to think about how you feel when you hear a swear word. For most of us, hearing a dirty word provokes a kind of emotional reaction. I think that all words provoke some sort of emotional reaction, just not as strong as those associated with swear words. But when I’m speaking in a foreign language, there is no emotional reaction to any word. As I said, it’s hard to explain – the best I can do is to say that there is no feeling or implicit meaning to the words of a foreign language.
I have been noticing this phenomenon a lot recently as I spoke with people here in my town. Then, last week, I read an article in The New Yorker that helped me think about it in a different way. The article was about the moments of insight that people have when they solve a problem and how the human mind comes to that insight. In short, the article concluded that moments of insight often come when people aren’t concentrating specifically on the problem; when they let their brains relax just a little bit.
The article also discussed the differences between right and left brain thought. If I understood the article, the right brain was critical to reaching these moments of insight because it uses associative reasoning. If people can relax their brains, the right hemisphere can perhaps help to make the appropriate connections to allow for insight.
Now to synthesize my thoughts about speaking in Tamazight and what I got from the article. In language, the left brain is responsible for the recalling the explicit meanings behind words, while the right brain, as mentioned above, works on associative, implicit connections. When I (or any other native English speaker), speak English, both hemispheres are involved in analyzing the language. The left hemisphere gives me the “dictionary definition” of the words, while the right hemisphere gives me the implicit meaning of the words, the feeling of the words. However, when I speak and listen to Tamazight, I have not formed any (or at least not many) implicit meanings for words. I mostly have just the translation of the word stored in my brain. So I’m only listening with my left brain. In the article, the author discussed people who’s right hemispheres had been physically damaged and their difficulties with language. They could understand language, but had no implicit connections. The article said that they couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
And that statement, that they couldn’t see the forest for the trees, is how I feel when I speak Tamazight. (When I understand, which isn’t all the time) I comprehend the specific information that is being transferred to me, but my right brain has no implicit associations to form. No greater picture, no forest. There is no emotional reaction, just a left brain understanding of the words.
I think it’s limiting – I’m missing out on some of what’s being communicated. Presumably, as I get more and more used to the language, my brain will form more implicit associations for the words and perhaps my right brain will kick in a little bit.

Reals vs Dirhams
This is just a short little observation, but I think it’s interesting. The official currency of Morocco is the dirham. Right now one dollar buys you about 7.4 dirhams. In Tounfite, my market town, 5 dirhams buys you a soda, 18 buys you some chicken and fries at a cafe. The used refrigerator that I bought cost 1,200 dirhams. My rent on my teeny house is 250 dirhams per month. A 45 minute transport ride to my town costs 10 dirhams. A kilo of chicken costs 30 dirhams. A kilo of tomatoes costs 3 dirhams, depending on the season.
However, no one here talks about the costs of things in dirhams. All the currency is denominated in dirhams, but people only speak of the cost in terms of reals. One dirham is twenty reals. So if I have a twenty dirham note and three five dirham coins in my pocket and a price is quoted for me at 560 reals, I have to quickly divide by twenty (28 dirhams) to know how much change to give.
The real is a relic of Morocco’s pre-independence days. If the math is tough for you, a vendor will do the real-dirham conversion upon request. But, people love it if you can think in terms of reals and not use dirhams. People talk in dirhams only in the bigger cities. I think it’s amazing that people look at a bill that says 50 dirhams on it, but they see 1,000 reals. Talk about implicit associations.

It seems like I’m always saying I will be moving into my house soon, but this time it’s true (hopefully). Saturday is the date. It will come as a relief. I’m planning to have a little house warming get together with four of the nearby volunteers.
Ramadan is fast approaching (no pun intended) and I’m planning to fast. I think it starts the night of September 2nd. For the uninitiated, observant Muslims do not eat, drink, smoke, have sex, or speak bad words from sun up to sun down for the entire month of Ramadan. The Islamic calendar is lunar, so thankfully it’s only a 28 day month. Also, the fact that the calendar is lunar means that Ramadan comes earlier every year. I’ll be sure to do a post just on Ramadan and the experience of fasting.
Other than that, it’s business as usual here. Hope all is well in the states.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

An Atypical Day in the Sbitar

An Atypical Day in the Sbitar

Sbitar is the name for a health center. My town of 400 has one sbitar, which is staffed by a female and male nurse (the male nurse is currently on a month long vacation). The sbitar also services a nearby (1.5km) town of 800.
I go to the sbitar most every weekday that I’m in my town. I don’t do much there, but it’s important for my community to associate me with health care. So I go there every day and sit. There aren’t very many patients, so most of the time I talk to the nurse (in French) or study my flashcards. When a patient does come in, I greet them, but the nurse does all the work. Recently, I’ve been able to help a little with translation (my nurse speaks only a little Tamazight and some people in my town don’t speak any Arabic). But for the most part I’m like a bump on a log and it’s pretty boring.
Well not yesterday! First, a woman from my town came into the room with her child. After getting some pills for the child, she asked for her birth control pills. The nurse looked at her charts and found that she wasn’t due for more pills for another three weeks, so refused to give her the pills. A huge argument started with both women yelling at one another. The pills were not given in the end.
Next, another woman came in. She shut the door behind her and, after greeting us, started crying. My nurse (a woman) hugged her and comforted her. I didn’t know what to do; physical contact was definitely out of the question, so I just sat there. Eventually it came out that the woman’s young (2 months) daughter had just died. The details were a little foggy, but it sounds like the woman’s family made her go to another town to work, leaving the daughter behind. The daughter got sick (with diarrhea) and received little care from the family. Without her mother’s care (and milk), she died. It was heartbreaking.
Then, a few minutes later, another woman came in with her daughter, age of 4 or 5 years. The daughter had something stuck in her big toe, which was causing her pain. When the nurse tried to look at the toe, she would scream and kick her feet. So the nurse told me to hold the child down while she worked on the toe. Oh man, I didn’t feel good about holding the kid’s legs down while she screamed bloody murder. But I didn’t know what else to do – am I going to refuse my nurse’s request? And maybe it had to be done. So that was an atypical day in the sbitar.

SIDA testing update
In my last post I talked about some SIDA (AIDS) education that me and some other volunteers did in a nearby city/town (Boumia), which happens to be a prostitution hub. There was free testing available to anyone who wanted it.
Out of 105 people tested, 30 positive for an STI. 30! Honestly, I was expecting that no one would test positive. Or maybe a person or two. I thought that the value of our work was mostly educating people about a disease that they were unaware of and hopefully protecting future generations from the disease. But the problem is here and now. I hadn’t thought I would do any SIDA education in my town, but I’m going to reconsider now. Men from my town definitely visit prostitutes in Boumia so it is a problem.

I’m still waiting for my house to be finished. Hopefully it will be done in a week or so. I’ve been buying stuff (refrigerator, stove, dishes, etc) to put in it once it’s finished. I also bought a TV and satellite dish for 1,400 Dh (less than $200). There is no monthly payment, once you buy the dish you have the channels for life. My monthly wage is 2,000 Dh. We get an additional one time payment of 5,000 Dh to furnish the house (which is barely enough, considering the house is empty). So 1,400 Dh is no small thing – I’m the only volunteer I know who has one. But I don’t spend a lot of money out here in the country and I think the TV will be worth it. It gets BBC world news. Also, I’ll be able to watch a soccer game every week. So I think it’s a good investment. And, I’ll be able to work on my Arabic, which I’m not exposed to very much here.
My Program Assistant came and visited my site today. Peace Corps sends someone to every site in the first few months to check in on us. When he was here, he talked to some of the people that I’ve been working with in my town and he was very excited by the experience. He thinks that people in my town are motivated and that there’s a lot of work for me to do. I had thought the same thing, but seeing him get so excited has energized me. Pretty soon, I should be doing a lot of work – probably after Ramadan (September). So I’m excited.
Heres my host family

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A couple different things

I haven’t posted in a while because I haven’t been to a cyber cafĂ© since my last post. So I’ve made up for it by making this post extra long.

SIDA (AIDS) Testing

Another volunteer recently organized a testing day in Boumia, which is a nearby big town/transportation hub. Boumia is known to everyone as a center of prostitution. If I tell men in my town that I’m going to Boumia, they will invariably ask me if I’m going to see a prostitute (no, I’m not). They also offer to go with me the next time I go. So Boumia is a probably a good place to be doing SIDA testing.
A couple volunteers and I went to the testing to do education with people waiting for their results. I was struck by two things: first, people (and by people I mean men, I only talked to men) were pretty open about talking about SIDA. I was expecting it to be a much harder subject to broach. I’d told a few people that I’m close with in my village why I was going to go to Boumia and they were a little appalled. My feeling is that people in the cities are more open to the subject than those from the country. Second, the men I talked to really didn’t know that much at all about the disease. Pretty much nothing. So it was a good experience and I think we were able to communicate some important information.


The other day there was a fight between two members of my community. They were off in the fields, far from town (as described in the previous post). One of them was herding sheep and the other was harvesting his field. Some of the sheep started to eat the man’s wheat and he got angry and yelled at the sheepherder for not keeping a close eye on the sheep. When the sheepherder didn’t do anything about the situation, the guy harvesting wheat hurt one of the sheep, almost killing it. And so the fight started. Lesson learned: never hurt someone’s sheep.
I found out about this whole incident the other evening. I left my house to go walk around town and a large part of the town, mostly women and children, had congregated in many different groups. It was obvious something was going on. I asked some of the kids and they told me about the fight. Apparently most all of the men had gone to watch the fight.

Tall, White, American Man

It’s silly to pretend that my race, gender, and other physical characteristics don’t matter here. They matter a whole lot. (Not so different from America, after all). And in terms of quickly winning respect from my community, my appearance can often be quite helpful. I’m going to comment on how different characteristics affect my work here, but understand that I do so without having experienced another’s perspective. Of course, I’ve talked to women and minority volunteers about their experiences, so I’ll add in those perspectives when they’re appropriate. But, obviously, those perspectives are not first hand.
First and foremost is my gender. When Peace Corps was developing this site, some members of my commune (local government) told them that the community only wanted a male. A woman would have a completely different experience integrating into my community. I spend a lot of my time outside, in public places, talking to people. I learn a lot about the community and it’s a great place to practice my language. It’s also really easy for me to hang out at these public places and be seen by my community, which is important so that they can get used to me. If a woman were here, I don’t know if she’d feel comfortable hanging out like I do. There are no women hanging out in these public places and I don’t know how my community would react if a woman volunteer tried to sit down and talk. Additionally, I believe I receive more respect talking to other males about work-related topics than a woman might.
The down side is that I don’t have as easy access to the female community. It’s hard for me to have a real conversation with women without some excuse. The women that I’ve met have been invited into my host family’s house or I’ve worked with at the fields. I greet women on the street and they’re more and more comfortable to converse with me, but it’s a lot slower going. Obviously, a woman volunteer would have an easier time. But, speaking from pure speculation, I think it would be more challenging for a woman volunteer to meet and talk to as many women as I have men. Like I said, I can meet pretty much the entire male community, hanging out in the center of town. But female social spaces are confined to less public spaces and smaller groups. Women do hang out outside, but almost always close by their house.
As a health volunteer, having access to women is very important as they do all of the cooking, cleaning, and child rearing. The health lessons that I really want to do involve talking to women in small groups, in their homes. Which is may be impossible for me to do. So being a male health worker can be a disadvantage as well.
Race is also very important. There is racism in Morocco and I think it could be hard to be a volunteer of a different skin tone. In particular, I’ve noticed that there is racism towards people of East Asian descent. I’ve had other volunteers tell me that they face a lot of harassment for their race. One story is that some Moroccans bark at people of East Asian descent because they believe that all East Asians eat dogs. Other volunteers, often of Hispanic or African descent, have told me that they are confused for Moroccans. There are stories of volunteers being refused the sale of alcohol (alcohol is prohibited for Moroccan citizens) because they look Moroccan. Being confused for a native Moroccan would have its benefits and drawbacks, as a volunteer. Being white, this has never been an issue for me. I’m clearly not Moroccan.
Finally, I’m much taller than most people here. The average guy is probably 4 or 5 inches shorter than me. There are only two men in my entire village who are as tall as me. I’ve always been about average height, and being taller than everyone feels different. I may be making up this feeling, but it feels as though my height commands respect from people whom I’m talking to.
So all in all, my physical characteristics shape my experience and effectiveness as a volunteer. It might be easier for me to work with local associations on big projects. Some men recently approached me in my village to help them try and replace the water pipes. I was really pleased that people felt comfortable approaching me so early on in my service to talk about work and potential projects and I think that my race and gender have something to do with it. On the other hand, it might be harder for me to have discussions with women about household issues, which are extremely important for improving health conditions.
However, I don’t want to make this issue so black and white, as there have been a couple of important, notable exceptions. First, I’ve had a woman volunteer visit my site. Walking around with me, she had no problem talking to men in public places. It seemed that the men were welcoming of her. Of course, she has been in Morocco for over a year and has the benefit of already speaking good Tamazight. Also, it was probably easier for her since I was accompanying her. Second, in my work on the midwife training, I’ve found women to be surprisingly open. Initially, when I met with women to talk about the training I was accompanied by my host mom and this woman volunteer. In my presence, speaking to those two women, the potential trainees that we talked to showed no hesitancy to talk about birth. And since then, on my own, the same women have been comfortable talking to be about the training and other things. So my feeling is that, having gotten to know me in the presence of women, they now feel comfortable around me.
Synthesizing these ideas, being a white male definitely affects my work, but maybe not as much as I thought it would. It is possible for me to meet with women to talk about work, but there are some initial barriers to overcome.

Other than that, it’s been raining a lot recently. Having threshed the grain, my family spent today separating the grain from the waste, another time-consuming project. All of our work filled four plus bags of wheat. Everyone in the community gives a small portion to the local talib, or religious leader, leaving us with four bags. I asked my mom how long it would take us to eat a bag of wheat and she said about a month and a half, giving us 6 months of wheat. Problem? Apparently not. I didn’t understand exactly what she said, but it sounds like we’ll mix the wheat with another grain to make it last the year.
Last weekend I met up with a few volunteers. There was a little carnival in a nearby town with bumper cars and a Ferris wheel that spun about twice as fast as a normal Ferris wheel. There was also cotton candy. So that was a lot of fun. I hope all is well back home.